By: Jackie Hart
For the past few years, lacrosse has been America’s fastest growing sport. From the youth level all the way up to college and professional leagues, its popularity is quickly spreading across the country. Here at Holy Cross, our men’s and women’s lacrosse teams carry 43 and 32 athletes, respectively. The men’s team has been a varsity program since 1958 and earned their first berth in the Patriot League tournament last spring, while the women’s program was founded in 1980 and enjoyed back-to-back Patriot League championships in 2006 and 2007. Both teams draw huge crowds to their home games, whether it be a cold Wednesday night or a sunny Saturday afternoon.
However, it’s fair to say that whether you’re watching a men’s or a women’s lacrosse game, you are watching two different sports. Even when one looks at a softball team or women’s ice hockey, the male and female athletes aren’t dressed that differently. As for sports like basketball and soccer, the discrepancies between men’s and women’s teams is barely noticeable. Lacrosse doesn’t follow this pattern.
The first major difference is from the outside—protective gear. Women wear goggles and mouthguards. Men wear helmets, mouthguards, and body pads. The next difference is the stick. Women all have short sticks, with no pocket. Men might have short or long sticks, depending on their position, all of them with a deep pocket. Before the clock even starts running, there is a striking difference: the face-off. As the men get down on the ground for a scrappy battle, women are standing to see who can best flick the ball in their favor. As the game progresses, the biggest difference of all manifests itself—contact.
Men’s lacrosse is rough and physical, as athletes use their sticks and their bodies to defend their opponents. Unless something is blatantly dirty, they can be aggressive. Women have a different set of rules, where checks must be quick and controlled, away from the sphere, and only meant to knock the ball out. If an athlete pushes a bit too hard on their opponent, they can be called on it, making a defender’s job very tactical.
So why not let the women play tough too? If they strap on pads and helmets, shouldn’t they be able to play like the guys? Critics argue that it would be too dangerous, women would get hurt. However, they wouldn’t be playing against men, they would be playing against other women. Even though some body to body or stick to body contact is allowed in women’s lacrosse, it is largely up to the referee’s discretion for when it’s time for a penalty. Holy Cross women’s lacrosse sophomore Molly Pfaff thinks women should be able to put on the protective gear and play rougher. “The only reason we can’t is because we don’t wear helmets, but I definitely want to,” said Pfaff. “If we could get the protective gear, the game would be much more physical.”
The game would definitely be much more physical and less gender segregated, but then it would lose its identity as a different sport. Because women currently can’t be as physically aggressive, they have to find new ways to gain control, and cradling a stick with no pocket becomes an extra challenge. In this way, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that these two games, while both requiring athleticism, also require a different set of skills. Holy Cross women’s lacrosse senior Mary Patalita think women’s lacrosse is great just the way it is. “They’re trying to get us to wear helmets, but it will just make people more reckless,” said Patalita. “It will completely change the game.”
Regardless, one thing is for sure: men and women’s lacrosse are very different games. Both demand athleticism and skill, but the jury is still out on whether they should evolve to become more similar. Should girls start padding up? Or should men and women be able to play the other’s game? Maybe there’s no right answer, so for now, cheer on your men’s and women’s lacrosse teams in their 2017 campaign as the men travel to Marist Saturday at 1 p.m. and the women travel to Navy Tuesday for a 2 p.m. matchup.